New State by State Debt Data; comments on the Student Aid Report

Student Debt and the Class of 2008

state debt map

According to our new report released today, college seniors who graduated with loans in 2008 carried an average of $23,200 in student loan debt. Meanwhile, unemployment climbed from an already challenging 7.6 percent in the third quarter of 2008 to 10.6 percent in 2009 - the highest third-quarter rate for college graduates aged 20 to 24 this decade. Debt levels vary widely by state, with the highest concentrated in the Midwest and New England.

To see debt levels for every state and nearly 2,000 four-year public and private nonprofit colleges, visit the interactive online map.

Download the report, Student Debt and the Class of 2008.

Comments on important financial aid forms

Last week the Institute for College Access & Success, home of the Project on Student Debt, submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Education on two important draft forms: the Student Aid Report (SAR) and a new "self-certification" form for students taking out private student loans.

The SAR is what federal aid applicants receive after filing the FAFSA. Our comments [link] focus on ways to make the SAR clearer and more useful for students and families facing tough choices about how to pay for college. We also note that the new form includes a major improvement based on our previous comments: if aid applicants appear to be eligible for a Pell Grant, they'll get individualized dollar estimates of their likely award.

Starting in February 2010, students who apply for a private student loan will have to fill out a self-certification form, as required by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. Congress's intent was to make sure students know about cheaper, safer federal aid options and get advice from their financial aid office before taking out a private student loan. To better accomplish these goals, our comments [link] suggest improvements to both the design and content of the form, such as providing a link and phone number for the FAFSA.